TSA CBT English Skills Section: How to Prepare & Pass the Test

The TSA has an extremely rigorous testing and evaluation process to ensure that they only hire the best-qualified candidates. If you are interested in becoming a TSA Inspector or Transpiration Security Officer (TSO), you will need to pass the TSA computer-based test (CBT).

On this page, we are going to walk you through every segment of the TSA English Skills assessment, so you know exactly what to expect, including: reading, vocabulary, and written communication, along with best practices for prepping.

Keep reading to find out more.

Get all the information you need about TSA’s computer-based assessment.

The TSA Writing Skills Assessment

The English language skills portion of the TSA CBT is intended to make sure that candidates have a sufficient understanding of the English language.

The test will focus on vocabulary, reading comprehension, spelling, and grammar.

The entire TSA CBT will take approximately 2.5 hours to complete. It’s important to note that the English proficiency portion will take up most of that time (approximately 2 hours). Also, the test is administered in an official TSA testing center.

There is no option to take this test at home or another location, so the applicant won’t have access to any materials like a dictionary or thesaurus to help.

The English Skills Assessment will consist of 50-60 multiple-choice questions. These questions will fall into one of three categories — Reading Comprehension, Vocabulary, and Written Communication.

Let’s break down each section.

Reading Comprehension

These questions are intended to test the candidate’s ability to read and comprehend the English language. For each question, you will have 90 seconds to read a short passage (approximately 100 words or so) and answer a multiple-choice question related to that text.

Primary Assessment Goals:

  • Speed-reading ability
  • Attention to details
  • Grasp of language

What you need to know:
Here are a number of pointers that will help you own this section!

  • Read the Questions before Text: An age-old trick is to first read the questions and then the paragraph. It is helpful to understand what you should be looking for in the text. However…
  • Don’t jump to conclusions: Let’s say that you are asked to the sentence that best expresses the point of the entire paragraph.
  • In this case you might be tempted to skim around to try to find the answer, but don’t. First read the text in its entirety or you can easily jump to the wrong conclusion.

Some answer options are only partially correct, while others may be logical but don’t answer the text. Read all the questions carefully so you don’t answer incorrectly.

Sample Question:

It’s little wonder Russians are toasting oil: These are boom times. Global oil prices have increased tenfold since 1998, and Russia has pulled ahead of Saudi Arabia as the world’s top crude oil producer.

The Kremlin’s budget now overflows with funds for new schools, roads, and national defense projects, and Moscow’s nouveau riche are plunking down millions of dollars for mansion-scale “dachas.”

The Russians now produce crude oil because:

  1. They just found it.
  2. Prices are down.
  3. Prices are up.
  4. Growing demand.

The correct answer is (C).

According to the passage: “There’s little wonder Russians are toasting oil: These are boom times. Global oil prices have increased tenfold since 1998.” Russia has been producing oil as the prices rise.


The vocabulary questions will consist of giving you a word and identifying its synonym (same meaning) or antonym (opposite meaning).

These questions are the most difficult because it requires you to understand the meaning of the main word and the available answers.

There may also be questions related to words that sound the same but have different meanings (for example “hole” and “whole”) or you could be asked to identify the correct spelling for commonly misspelled words.

Primary Assessment Goals:

  • Synonyms.
  • Antonyms.
  • Homophones.
  • Commonly misspelled words.

How to maximize your score on this section:

  • Ensure that the vocabulary questions you are studying are on your level.
  • Memorizing vocabulary is not the most effective way to expand it. Rather try reading as much variety of texts as possible including books, news, and academic articles. Seeing vocabulary in context is very important.
  • Try using flashcards to link synonyms and antonyms, this will help refresh your memory.
  • Use practice exercises that are on your level and slowly build yourself up

Sample Question

IMPERIOUS is the opposite of:

  2. MOODY.
  4. QUIET.
  5. STORMY.

The correct answer is (C) subservient.

Imperious means “domineering in a haughty manner; dictatorial; overbearing,” so the antonym is subservient. Arrogant is a similar word but not a synonym. Quiet and stormy are not related. Therefore, the correct answer is subservient.

Written Communication

In these questions, you will be asked to read a sentence that has two blanks. You will then need to identify the correct words that should be in these blanks. Since the words come in pairs, make sure that both words are correct. Also, some of the answers may contain misspelled words. This segment is broad and will focus on comprehension skills, grammar, spelling, and punctuation.

Primary Assessment Goals:

  • Weed out spelling errors.
  • Find word pairs.

Best practices for this segment:

  • Focus on practicing tenses, grammar, and spelling rules.
  • Improve your grammar and spelling, while focusing on the use of different tenses.
  • Practice your writing every day via emails, text messaging, or get out a pen and pad and write a story.

Sample Question

Here is an example:

Here is an example:
By ________ the fossil remains of animals, paleontologists can learn much about their _________.

  1. exxamining, apearence.
  2. examining, appearance.
  3. examinning, appearing.
  4. examination, appearances.
  5. None of these.

The correct answer is (B).

By examining the fossil remains of animals, paleontologists can learn much about their appearance.

How to Prepare for the TSA English Skills Test?

This portion of the test can be overwhelming, especially for individuals who are ESL (English as a Second Language). Fortunately, there are plenty of ways that you can prepare for the exam and feel more confident on testing day.

Online Prep Course – There are several websites or companies online that offer a comprehensive prep course.

However, you want to ensure that your prep-test includes reading materials, explanations, and timed practice exams to help absorb the information you need to pass both the ORT and English skills test.

For instance, JobTestPrep’s preparation is accurate, timed, and replete with in-depth explanations so you will be fully ready.

Get an English Tutor – If English is not your first language, you might consider getting an English tutor to help you prepare for the test.

There are many online tutors available through sites like iTalki.

Best Practices When Taking the TSA English Skills Test

When your testing day arrives, there are some good practices to keep in mind to help improve your score and performance on the TSA CBT.

  1. Be Prepared – Get plenty of sleep the night before, eat a good breakfast, and arrive early at the testing center so you don’t feel rushed.
  2. Eliminate Possible Wrong Answers – Since the test is multiple-choice, you should always try to eliminate the incorrect answers first.
    This will improve your chances of getting a correct answer, even if you are taking an educated guess.
  3. Use All of Your Time – If you have time left over, go back and review some of the questions you were unsure of.

Visit the TSA preparation page to gain a deeper understanding of the preparation for the English exam.

Getting Your TSA CBT Results

It is extremely important that you are well prepared for the English skills portion of the TSA CBT.

Only about 30% of people pass the TSA CBT, and you only get two opportunities to pass.

If you fail the first time, you must wait six months before reapplying. After a failed second attempt, you will no longer be eligible for employment with the TSA.

Keep in mind that it is possible to be asked to retest even if you pass. This could be requested if the test administrators feel you may have passed the test by chance.

In any case, the good news is that you won’t have to wait long to receive your results. In many cases, you will receive your results by email within 30 minutes of completing the test.

Remember that passing the test does not guarantee that you will receive a job offer. These positions are highly competitive.

In some situations, candidates may have to wait for months or even several years for a position to become available.

However, passing the TSA CBT is a great step in the right direction to becoming a TSA Inspector or TSO.